A federal court has rejected part of Florida's new election law that would have restricted the number of early voting days across the state. The court said the new law cannot take effect in five counties where the African-American vote could be key in November.
The ruling — which was announced late Thursday — is a win for voting rights groups, who say the new law was meant to suppress minority voters in Florida in the Nov. 6 presidential election.
Florida Public Radio's Trimmel Gomes reports that the ruling affects only the five counties that are covered by the federal Voting Rights Act. Because of a history of discrimination in those areas of the state, Florida must receive Justice Department or federal court approval to change voting laws in those areas.
A three-judge panel said evidence presented in the case clearly shows black voters utilize early voting much more than white voters, as in 2008 when President Obama won Florida. The ruling blocks the new law from affecting these five Florida counties: Monroe, Collier, Hendry, Hardee and Hillsborough.
The law passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature had cut the number of early voting days to eight from 12. The federal court ruling reinstates the 12-day early voting period in only the five counties.
The Associated Press reports that the three-judge panel's decision states:
"In sum, Florida is left with nothing to rebut either the testimony of the defendants' witnesses or the common-sense judgment that a dramatic reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African-Americans would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot."
The ruling in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia does not bar the state from trying again to create an early voting policy that could pass constitutional muster statewide. But for now, the eight-day limit can apply only in counties outside of the affected area.
It was the second court ruling this week that addressed aspects of new laws that could affect voting in swing states in November.
On Wednesday, a judge in Pennsylvania upheld that state's new voter ID law, although the ruling is being appealed to the state's highest court.